The Depths

This is a map of the Petersburg subway, by Alexei Goncharov, showing the depth (in meters) and construction type (“single-vault,” etc.) of each station. The deepest station is Admiralteyskaya, at 86 meters, in downtown Petersburg. The station, which opened in 2011, has a troubled history. For many years, it was a “ghost” station, briefly glimpsed during the long dark transit from Sadovaya to Sportivnaya. Image courtesy of Natalia Yuda and St. Petersburg Photo Diary.

Bad Memories, Unpopular Opinions, Wacky Icons

September 8, 2018
I don’t care what they call themselves or what names they are called — liberals, intellectuals, anarchists, communists, socialists, plain old good people — but given the utter silencing of the topic of Syria in the provisionally anti-Putin grassroots and political discourse in Russia, it is difficult to see these various democratic and progressive forces as a force per se, and even more so as a force for good and renewal. The full picture of what is happening nowadays includes the bombing of Idlib, and not only the beloved “social agenda” vis-a-vis the unpopular pension reform, if only because the regime has had to find the money for the bombs, missiles and planes in people’s pockets. But everyone keeps their lips sealed, not realizing that cowardice on this occasion is read as cowardice on all occasions among “the common folk” that they are perpetually trying to save.

September 8, 2017
“However, his new position as head of the local police will not bring the main character the peace for whose sake he pursued it. After the opening of an oil refinery, the city is plunged into the chaos of crime. Attempts to deal with the oil company lead to disastrous consequences for his entire family. The tragedy forces the hero to compromise his principles and set out on the path of revenge.”

September 8, 2016
From the annals of Russian pollocracy, which I’ve decided to redub poleaxeocracy.

File this one under “aiding and comforting the enemy.”

Stalin was “quite popular,” too. God only knows how that ended up.

In any case, “being popular” and “good governance” are two entirely different things.

It’s strange how much capital of all kinds has been spent over the past 17 years to convince the Russian people and everyone else this isn’t the case.

So if US researchers really were wasting their time trying to figure out whether Putin is “in fact popular,” this only goes to show . . .

What? That either the researchers have fallen for this stupidity or they think Russians are degenerate morons.

There are no circumstances under which you can objectively determine whether Putin is “in fact popular,” because the question itself is irrelevant.

It’s like asking people whether they think Michael Corleone is “really handsome.”

Michael Corleone’s job is not “being handsome.” It’s running the Corleone mob.

Greg Yudin
September 8, 2016
A wonderful story. I have just been sent confirmation of my text yesterday about the Levada Center of a sort that I couldn’t have hoped for.

If you remember, the Justice Ministry has been hassling the Levada Center over a study conducted jointly with the University of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is somehow supported by the Pentagon, and from this it follows that Pentagon money directly lands in the pocket of the Levadovites, who in return report secrets about Russian public opinion. We won’t bother discussing this paranoia, so let’s move on.

The joint project with Wisconsin most likely refers to the research that Scott Gelbach from Wisconsin did with the Levada Center’s involvement. A colleague sent me an article on this research that has just been published. Actually, the goal of Gelbach, Timothy Frye from Columbia University and their team was to find out “Is Putin’s popularity real?” (as their article is entitled). They needed the Levada Center as a partner for conducting an “experiment” as part of a public opinion poll. In this experiment, they wanted to rule out the “fear factor” on the part of the respondents. (I’ll be writing a separate post about the “experiment.”) As a result of the experiment, it transpired that “Putin is in fact quite popular.” Moreover, they claim that, in reality, Putin’s ratings, per their experiment, may even be somewhat underestimated due to “artificial deflation.”

Once again, read these lines: the authorities want to shut down the Levada Center because of a study that claims that Putin is “in fact” even more popular than people think!

And not just claims, but informs the whole world about it in perfect English. I wonder if the Anti-Maidan movement knows about this?

September 8, 2016
“So begins a yearlong series of plays chronicling Russian leaders.”

Enough already. I’d like to hear a play or program about the history of Portugal or Mali or Ecuador or Malaysia.

BBC Radio 4 and all the other high-tone media outlets in the so-called western world have so-called Russian history and culture coming out of their ears and noses.

This only works to the advantage of the Putinists, because, almost without exception, these various “serious” entertainments and furrowed-brow documentaries and exposés simply reinforce the tired home truths (i.e., lies) about Russia’s history and present that the regime itself is fond of shoving down everyone’s throats. Not to mention the fact that getting so much attention satisfies the vanity of the Russian powers that be.

But really, there is a big, big world out there we’d like to hear about more often. A world without Putin and “Russia.”

September 8, 2015
Over-the-top late-Soviet “ritual” lacquered panels, commissioned by the Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism in Leningrad in the early nineteen-eighties, and brilliantly and flawlessly executed by a group of six “retooled” icon painters from the village of Mstyora, near Suzdal, a place famed for its distinctive school of icon and lacquered box painting.

Although the panels were officially commissioned, they have not been exhibited until now, apparently. Head to the revamped Museum of the History of Religion (nowadays, sans the atheism) in downtown Petersburg to check them out.

Photos by Comrade Koganzon. Translated, where necessary, by the Russian Reader

The Doubles

The powers that be in Petersburg (i.e., Putin’s United Russia party) have decided to confuse voters by running two candidates named “Boris Vishnevsky” against the popular liberal city councilman Boris Vishnevsky, pictured on the far right, who is running for re-election on September 19. The two fake candidates (who were known as Alexei Shemlyov and Viktor Bykov before the current campaign and, presumably, will resume their real identities after it) have now also grown beards and mustaches to further muddle Petersburg voters, who will have this poster to look at in their polling stations when they vote in two weeks. As the real Boris Vishnevsky points out, above, it also appears that the photos of his doppelgangers have been retouched to heighten their resemblance to him. ||| TRR

Ilya Pershin: The Ice Under the Major’s Feet

Russian political prisoner and artist Ilya Pershin. Photo courtesy of Anton Yupanov, OVID Info, and Kseniia Sonnaya’s Facebook page

The Ice Under the Major’s Feet: A Petersburg Man Has Been in Jail for More Than Six Months Because a Policeman Fell Down
Kseniia Sonnaya
OVD Info
September 2, 2021

Petersburg artist Ilya Pershin has been in jail for more than six months, accused of kicking a riot police officer in the leg and elbowing him in the chest when he tried to detain him at the January 31 protests. Pershin’s girlfriend, who witnessed the incident, claims that the policeman fell and bruised himself. This is our account of the Pershin case, along with excerpts from his prison diary.

On January 31,  2021, 26-year-old artist Ilya Pershin left work at lunchtime to pick up the house keys from his girlfriend Erzheni. She was going to a rally in support of Alexei Navalny and invited Ilya to go with her. They traveled to St. Isaac’s Square together.

“When we were at the parking lot, there was an attack by the so-called titushky. A young man who was most likely a protester was assaulted. It was just that, at some point, a fight started: two men in their forties began beating the young man. At first, I didn’t even understand what was happening,” says Erzheni.

She realized that it was titushky who were beating the young man when the police arrived at the scene of the fight and the instigators showed them their IDs. “The police didn’t even detain them, although they had beaten the young man until he bled,” says Erzheni. After that, according to her, “some kind of commotion began, the law enforcement officers got their act together, and at some point the crowd ran in the direction of St.  Isaac’s.” Ilya ran, too. According to Erzheni, he was afraid that he would be beaten. Erzheni followed him at a brisk pace.

“At that moment, a man in uniform in front of me grabbed [Ilya]. [The officer] was kitted out in in full battle armor: helmet, face mask and shields. He grabbed [Ilya] from behind. Ilya was running away from him, and the man was running right behind him — and grabbed him. By inertia Ilya continued moving, taking literally two steps, with the officer in tow. The monument to Nicholas the First, which is under repair, was nearby, and there was a mound of snow. I didn’t see any struggle. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he slipped, maybe he stumbled, but the officer just fell on his left side, while Ilya kept running. That was it,” recalls Erzheni.

According to police investigators, it was at this moment that Pershin kicked Ivan Alexeyev, an officer in the operational platoon of the riot police’s 5th Operational Battalion, in the left leg with his left foot. Alexeyev claims that he was kicked in his popliteal fossa (the space behind the knee joint). The victim also said that when Pershin was trying to escape, he struck him at least two blows in the chest with his elbow.

According to attorney Alexei Kalugin, who works with OVD Info, a medical examination recorded only a bruise on the riot policeman’s left knee joint. Pershin’s defense team say that there is no evidence of such blows in the case — there is not a single witness or video confirming the riot policeman’s testimony. When questioned by a police investigator, the victim himself said about the alleged blows to his chest that “due to the fact that I was wearing a bulletproof vest, I was not caused any injuries or physical pain.”

Investigative Ballet
The video of the investigative experiment shows that the stand-in for Ilya Pershin was able to touch the leg of the injured riot police officer close to the popliteal fossa area only on the fifth attempt. During the other attempts, despite the victim’s prompting, the stand-in struck the posterior region of the man’s left thigh, located much higher than the popliteal fossa. At the same time, it is noticeable that when trying to kick the victim with his left foot, the stand-in loses his balance and repositions his right leg to achieve aa more stable position. “It was thus established that, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left leg, namely in the area of the knee joint from behind,” a police investigator concluded after the experiment.

When the stand-in tried to perform the same actions while in motion, he again failed to strike the victim’s popliteal fossa, kicking his calf instead. “Thus, when moving in this way, given a height of 181 cm, it is possible to use the left leg to kick the victim’s left knee joint, from which it can be concluded that this area of the left leg is reachable given this height,” the investigator again concluded.

At the request of the defense team, the Independent Expertise Center compared the video of the investigative experiment and the protocol and pointed out the inconsistencies: “The protocol of the investigative experiment contains information that does not correspond to the actions in the supplied video.” Pershin’s lawyer Anton Yupanov, who works with OVD Info, says that an independent examination was ordered because “a blow of the stated trajectory and force was not possible at all.”

There is a video recording in the case file in which the silhouettes of Pershin and the alleged victim, Alexeyev, are visible. When viewed in slow motion, “it is clearly visible that there was no impact,” says Yupanov. However, the investigator has cited the same video as proof that Pershin kicked the riot policeman.

When questioned, the victim’s colleagues said that they had also not seen Pershin kicking the officer. “Some of them heard their colleague cry out in pain, and then they helped him. But no one saw the moment when he fell, except for Ilya’s girlfriend, who said that the riot policeman slipped, ” the lawyer says.

In her dispatch on the court hearing in the Pershin case, Zaks.ru correspondent Sofia Sattarova wrote that Alexeyev testified that he himself did not see the moment of the blow, but “only felt pain that caused his leg to ‘give out’ and make him ‘slide off’ the accused.” In court, Alexeev also said that Pershin had “already served a real sentence in full.” He asked for a lenient sentence and said he would have “ended the whole thing peacefully.”

Pershin denies any wrongdoing. In reply to a letter from OVD Info, he noted, “I think the ‘victim’ just lost his balance and fell. The individual attacked me from behind. I didn’t see anything.” According to Pershin’s defense lawyer, Pershin regrets that the riot police officer was injured, but does not believe that he was to blame for this.

Detention and Arrest
Pershin was detained on the afternoon of February 17, 2021, at the hotel where he worked as a desk clerk. Yupanov surmises that the detention occurred only two weeks after the protest rally because law enforcement officers examined video footage from the rally and identified Pershin before putting him under surveillance. “I was on another case at the police department in Otradnoye, and there was a photo of Ilya hanging on the stand of those wanted by the police. The accompanying text said that they were looking for this person for assaulting a police officer,” the lawyer adds.

Pershin himself says that none of the people who detained him introduced themself nor did they explain the reason for his arrest. “When they were taking me to the GSU [the Main Investigative Department], they did a good cop-bad cop-style interrogation. Now I smile when I remember it, of course, but at the time I was not laughing. In the vehicle, they told me why I had been detained, politely adding, ‘If you so much as budge, we’ll shoot you in the knee.’ As we approached the GSU, they said, ‘It used to be easier. We would just take you into the countryside and beat the shit out of you.’ I don’t think I need to describe my feelings [at that moment],” Pershin wrote.

In the evening of the same day, February 17, the apartment where Erzheni and Ilya lived was searched. Pershin was not taken to the search, only Erzheni was present. According to the search report (OVD Info has a copy of the report), the two Center “E” officers who carried out the search did not confiscate anything from the apartment. On the morning of the following day, a preventive measures hearing was held at the October District Court in Petersburg. Erzheni, as the owner of the apartment, was ready to vouch formally for Pershin so that he could be placed under house arrest in her apartment, but she was not summoned to the hearing.

On its Telegram channel, the Consolidated Press Service of the Courts of St. Petersburg reported the court hearing as follows: “Pershin was detained on 17.02.2021. A native of Magadan, registered in Salsk, he has no registration in St. Petersburg, and works as an on-duty hotel clerk. He said that he has a child, but the father is not named in the [child’s] birth certificate, because he overslept the registration. He requested house arrest at the home of his current live-in girlfriend, but could only remember the girl’s first name.”

Pershin does in fact have a son, who is only two years old. Yupanov, who was with Pershin at the preventive measures hearing, said that the remark that Pershin had overslept the child’s registration is a fantasy on the part of the press secretary. “He merely said that by agreement with the child’s mother, they decided not to record [Pershin as father] in the birth certificate. But he communicates with the child regularly and has provided for him financially,” the lawyer explained. According to Erzheni, the child’s mother, Pershin’s ex-girlfriend, supports Pershin and even has gone to visit him at the pre-trial detention center.

“From the first day [since his arrest], Ilya has been worried about the child. He has been thinking not about himself, but about the child — how his potential criminal record would affect his future. Although they don’t live together, [Ilya and the child’s mother] maintain very warm personal relations, which is quite rare at the present time,” says Yupanov. In his letter, Ilya also told us about his son. He wrote that he first thing he would like to do after his release is to go play with him “to make up for the moments lost during this time in the baby’s growth.”

At first, Erzheni was quite worried about her boyfriend, “because after all, it was me who was initially going [to the protest rally]. He is an adult and makes his own decisions, but still.” In the spring, when the young woman was questioned as a witness in the case, the investigator, after reading their correspondence on Telegram, pressured her into feeling guilty, she says. “He said all sorts of things about how the whole thing was my fault, almost that I should go to jail. He behaved personally in a way that was ugly. I don’t know, maybe that’s how they’re used to doing things. Work is work, but we must remain human beings. I also worked in a government job for a long time,” says Erzheni. Pershin and Erzheni correspond, and the young woman helps his family to deliver care packages to the the pre-trial detention center.

Eight [sic] months have passed since Pershin’s arrest. “They’re pickling [Ilya]. He is already tired of being jailed in the Crosses,” says Yupanov. When asked how Ilya is enduring the arrest, Erzheni answers that it has been difficult. “It has been happening to him in waves: first there was shock and, well, all the stages of acceptance. He has had mood swings and bouts of depression. For him, as an artist, this has not been an inspiring story,” the young woman claims. Pershin himself said that because of his arrest, his “physical and mental state leaves much to be desired.” When asked how his experience of eight [sic] months in jail had changed him, the artist replied that it was not for him to judge, but he hoped that he had “gleaned only the best things.” Pershin wrote about the outcome he expects: “I hope for an acquittal. But I’m preparing for the worst.”

Ilya Pershin’s Diary, 25 March—10 April 2021
In the pre-trial detention center, Pershin has been keeping a diary, in which he writes about his feelings, everyday life and the people he meets. He gave part of his diary to OVD Info through his lawyer. We have published excerpts from it below. Some parts of the diary have been blurred at Pershin’s request. The original spelling and punctuation have been preserved.

25.03.21 There was a cell toss in the second block of the Crosses on all four floors. After the toss, I was moved from the third wing to the second. My cellmates are older, which means they are quieter. Bliss. Oh, I almost forgot: today is Thursday.

26.03.21 Fri. Remember that I said that my new cellmates were calmer? They’re so tactful… For the first time since my arrest, I had a good night’s sleep.

27.03.31 Sat. It was such a sunny morning today that for a second I forgot where I was. Being in prison heightens the senses. The slightest bad joke can lead to dismaying consequences. During internal inspection you leave the cell dressed to the waist (your pants are rolled up). During a cell inspection, you stand “on the galley” (in the corridor) facing the wall. One of the block wardens examined my tattoos and came to a brilliant conclusion: “Soon the theme of tattoos will change. Domes and stars will be the new thing.” That specifically made me lose my cool. So I said, “First I’ll make a picture of you on my pubis.” I almost wound up in the punishment cell.

28.03.21 Sun. I went out for a walk. […] You go to a walking cell about five by two and a half meters. It’s four walls and a cage with a grid that separates you from the clear sky. And the crimson dawn woke me up.

29.03.21 Mon. I didn’t sleep last night. It wasn’t possible to sleep during the day, because of the “bath.” This is bliss. […] Tomorrow I’m expecting visitors: [my] lawyers and the police investigator. I’ll be going for a stroll. I’m going to bed.

30.03.21 Tue. Today I read the case file. Well, it’s all over but the shouting. We are halfway to a verdict. While I was at the investigative department, they conducted another cell toss. They built something like a mountain of junk out of my things and my bunk. It’s good that letters have arrived.

31.03.21 Wed. Tomorrow is the court hearing on extending my arrest. Just the thought of it makes me sweat. The chances of getting the terms of my arrest changed [to house arrest or release on one’s own recognizance, for example] are zero, and I have to get up at five in the morning, otherwise it’s the punishment cell for me. I got a care package from Erzheni. My pussycat xD

1.04.21 Thur. I was woken up at 5:00. At 6:00 they took me out of the cell and took me down to the first floor. After that, all those who are sent to the courts (and there are hundreds of them from all over the prison) are sorted into “glasses” [holding cells]. A “glass” is a room 5 by 2 m., in which people are stuffed chockablock. The air comes through a small crack in the window. Everyone smokes. And they light up at the same time. It is in such an environment that you wait for your last name to be called to be shipped out.

2.04.21 Fri. The morning is repeated, since the hearing was postponed. Why? It’s not clear. After I arrive from the court, they throw me into a “glass” again. In a few hours you go for an inspection. After the inspection, you go to another “glass.” In the “glass” you wait hopefully for your section to be called. The waiting is accompanied by noise and “exhaust” from cigarettes. You have to wait hours for your section to be called.

3.04.21 Sat. — 4.04.21 Sun. After such travels, it takes you at least two days to recover! So, apart from sleeping and eating, nothing happened to me.

5.04.21 Mon. Around lunchtime, I was summoned for a telephone call for the first time during my stay. I had written and submitted the application about 15 days ago. It’s always like this here. Some [inmates] are taken out of their cells every day without applications or permissions, while others have to wait two weeks.

10.04.21 Sat. All of the past five days I carried out “orders” for my cellmates and prisoners from other cells. N. told me a “flat-out fucked” level story. When he was on the outside, he witnessed an accident in which two GAZelles burned to a crisp after a head-on collision, and a minibus was pulled out of a ditch. N. later met the driver of that selfsame minibus in the “glass” here in the Crosses. The driver was in the joint because a woman was killed in that minibus. The people you meet in the “glass”!

You can support Ilya by writing him a letter via FSIN Pismo [the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service’s electronic messaging system] or by regular mail, to the following address:

Russia 196655 St. Petersburg, Kolpino
Kolpinskaya St., 9, FKU SIZO-1 of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region
Pershin Ilya Aleksandrovich, DOB 17.06.1994

You can read our guide to writing letters to political prisoners.

All images courtesy of OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Situation in the Country

The enthronement of Metropolitan Joanikije of Montenegro and the Littoral will still take place in Cetinje on September 5, despite the flare-up of the situation in the country, Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia told the Tanyug news agency. [TASS, 4.09.2021; translated by the Russian Reader]

Ethnic tensions flare up in Montenegro over church ceremony
Predrag Milic
Associated Press
September 4, 2021

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — Protesters clashed with hundreds of riot police in the old capital of Montenegro on Saturday, setting up blockades of tires and large rocks ahead of the inauguration of the new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the small Balkan nation.

The ceremony planned for Sunday in Cetinje has angered opponents of the Serbian church in Montenegro, which declared independence from neighboring Serbia in 2006.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters confronted the police in Cetinje and briefly removed some of the protective metal fences around the monastery where the inauguration of Metropolitan Joanikije is supposed to take place. Montenegrin state RTCG TV said the protesters broke through a police blockade at the entrance to Cetinje and threw stones at them, shouting “This is Montenegro!” and “This is not Serbia!”

Waving red Montenegrin flags with a double-headed eagle, protesters then set up road barriers with trash containers, car tires and large rocks to prevent church and state dignitaries from coming to the inauguration on Sunday.

Montenegrins remain deeply divided over their country’s ties with neighboring Serbia and the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is the nation’s dominant religious institution. Around 30% of Montenegro’s 620,000 people consider themselves Serb.

Thousands protested last month in Cetinje, demanding that the inauguration be held somewhere else. The church has refused to change its plans.

Since Montenegro split from Serbia, pro-independence Montenegrins have advocated for a recognized Orthodox Christian church that is separate from the Serbian one.

Montenegrin authorities have urged calm during the weekend ceremonies, which start with the arrival Saturday evening of the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Porfirije, in Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital.

Porfirije is set to attend Sunday’s inauguration of Joanikije, whose predecessor as the church’s leader in Montenegro, Amfilohije, died in October after contracting COVID-19.

Illustrating the deep ethnic divide, thousands of people waving Serbian flags gathered in front of the main Serbian Orthodox church in Podgorica on Saturday to welcome the patriarch. Many were bused to the capital from Serbia.

The Serbian Orthodox Church played a key role in demonstrations last year that helped topple a long-ruling pro-Western government in Montenegro. The new government now includes staunchly pro-Serb and pro-Russian parties.

Montenegro’s previous authorities led the country to independence from Serbia and defied Russia to join NATO in 2017. Montenegro also is seeking to become a European Union member.

The emphasis is mine. ||| TRR

New Montenegrin Gov’t Maintains Russia Sanctions, Deferring to EU
Samir Kajosevic
BalkanInsight
December 14, 2020

Disappointing pro-Russian parties in the new government, Foreign Minister Djordje Radulovic says Montenegro won’t lift sanctions on Russia, as the country must respect European Union rules if it wants to join the Union.

Montenegro’s new Foreign Minister, Djordje Radulovic, said the country will continue with sanctions against Russia despite the demands of some parties in the new majority to lift them.

On Monday Radulovic said the government won’t lift sanctions on Russia because Montenegro must respect European Union rules if it wants to join the Union.

“I believe that sanctions against Russia hurt the sentiments of a certain number of people to whom Russia is close, rather than Russia itself. I fully understand those people, but they must know that by imposing sanctions, we are not declaring war on Russia,” Radulovic told the daily newspaper Vijesti.

“We are not enemies of Russia. I informed the Russian ambassador that the sanctions remain in force, but we will seek cooperation in all areas that do not violate our European strategic priorities,” Radulovic added.

In parliamentary elections held on August 30, three opposition blocs won a slender majority of 41 of the 81 seats in parliament, ousting President Milo Djukanovic’s long ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS.

Montenegro has long had close ties to Russia, dating back to the reign of Tsar Peter the Great when Russia agreed to take the small Orthodox principality under its protective wing.

But these have faded since Djukanovic steered Montenegro towards the West. In March 2014, the government backed US and EU sanctions on Moscow for its perceived intervention in Ukraine and for its annexation of Crimea.

This sparked criticism, especially from the Serbian Orthodox Church, SPC, and pro-Serbian political parties who cherish ties to Russia. In August 2015, Russia added Montenegro to the list of countries from which it was banning food imports in retaliation to the Western sanctions imposed on it.

On September 13, an MP from the ruling majority, Marko Milacic, said that lifting sanctions must be the first move of the new government.

The new Prime Minister, and leader of the pro-Serbian For the Future of Montenegro coalition, Zdravko Krivokapic, on September 16 vowed to rebuild bridges with Russia.

“The current situation is absurd. Imagine that, as a small country, you impose sanctions on a large country like Russia. We will establish good relations with all countries of the world, including, of course, Russia,” he told the Russian Telegram channel Nazigar.

According to the new Montenegrin governing constitution, the government has the power to simply lift the sanctions, even if the EU was not impressed.

Candidates for membership are expected to align their foreign policy with that of the EU, but there is no legal obligation. Serbia, for example, has refused to join the sanctions despite negotiating to join the EU.

The emphasis is mine. ||| TRR

Putin Threatened by Estonian Hippies

Mihkel Ram Tamm (center) was a guru for hippies in Estonia and other parts of the Soviet Union. Courtesy of Vladimir Wiedemann and the Guardian

Reading of Durnenkov Play Banned in Vladivostok 
Vitalia Bob
Teatr
September 1, 2021

A reading of Mikhail Durnenkov’s play How Estonian Hippies Destroyed the Soviet Union at the Primorsky Youth Theater [in Vladivostok] has been banned [sic].

The Primorsky Youth Theater’s new season was to open on September. The theater had announced this event a long time ago: it was planned for the theater’s courtyard and featured a reading of Mikhail Durnenkov’s play How Estonian Hippies Destroyed the Soviet Union. According to Maritime Territory media, yesterday, August 31, on the eve of the Russian president’s visit to Vladivostok, the management of the Youth Theater was forced to cancel the reading of the play and all events scheduled for September 2 after getting a call from the Maritime Territory Ministry of Culture and Archives.

Sergei Matlin, former head of the regional department of culture, commented on the reading’s cancellation on social media.

“It’s disgusting. This, by the way, is exactly what is meant by vicarious embarrassment. That is, when someone else does something, but for some reason you feel ashamed… The ministry actually doesn’t have the right to ban the reading of the play. Since this production definitely doesn’t qualify as a state commission, that means it is not financed from the budget. In any case, even if there were some controversial aspects about the text of the play, this is a creative issue and should definitely not be solved in the offices of bureaucrats. What has happened sets a dangerous precedent. If we do not fight back today, then tomorrow officials will want to veil nude pictures in a gallery, the day after tomorrow — to edit the wording of signage they don’t like in a museum exposition, and a couple of days later — to alter the costumes of characters at the Puppet Theater,” Matlin wrote.

Matlin also noted that Durnenkov’s play is currently being staged at the Meyerhold Center in Moscow with financing from the Presidential Grants Fund.

Lydia Vasilenko, the Youth Theater’s artistic director, declined to comment, but wrote on her Facebook page, “I’m having a hard time, a really hard time. Today, the reading of the Durnenkov play has been canceled. I’m at a loss.”

____________________

How Estonian Hippies Destroyed the Soviet Union is a tragicomedy about the adventures of six Estonian hippies who are hungry for freedom and love. Despite the fact that the reading was canceled in Vladivostok, the play, produced with money from a presidential grant, is currently running at the Meyerhold Center in Moscow.

Vladimir Putin has repeatedly expressed regret about the collapse of the Soviet Union, calling it “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.” He touched on this topic at his meeting with schoolchildren yesterday.

Source: Radio Svoboda

Translated by the Russian Reader

The play most suited to a large stage would have to be Mikhail Durnenkov’s How Estonian Hippies Destroyed the Soviet Union, which was written on commission for a theatre in Estonia. It is a dream-like psychedelic journey where reality and the imaginary become entangled, only disentangling at the play’s denouement, when it becomes clear that while the eponymous Estonian hippies may be forced to physically submit to the will of authority, it is their ideals of love and freedom that ultimately collapse the Soviet project from within, at the level of the individual. 

— Alex Trustrum Thomas, “Moscow’s 2018 Liubimovka Festival: New Trends, Old Problems,” The Theatre Times, 12 October 2018

 

Flowers and hair grow everywhere! A wild flower power ride on the footprints of the Soviet hippie movement take you into the psychedelic underground of 1970s. In search of freedom and happiness under the thumb of the strict political regime a colorful crowd of artists, musicians, freaks, vagabonds and other long-haired drop-outs created their own System in the Soviet Union. Years later, a group of eccentric hippies take a road journey to Moscow where people still gather annually on the 1st of June to commemorate a tragic event in 1971, when thousands of hippies were arrested by the KGB. Directed by Terje Toomistu.

Back to the Basics

Today, September 1, is the Day of Knowledge — the first day of school — in Russia and some other post-Soviet countries. As it happens, it was sometime around the Day of Knowledge thirty-one years ago that I began studying Russian. My first Russian teacher was a Hungarian woman named Zsuzsa, at Portland State University. She was only the first of many wonderful guides to the language over the next five or six years (the time it took me to achieve relative fluency), including Nora, Sergei, Zoya, and an amazing Chinese grad student who explained Russian grammar — in Russian (speaking English in class was forbidden at UDub) — better than anyone I’ve ever met; all the lovely, patient and generous lecturers and instructors at the Herzen Institute, who were selflessly dedicated to their profession at a time when working conditions for teachers in Russia couldn’t have been worse; the incomparable Katya Vidre, who introduced me to the work of Alexei Khvostenko and Sergei Dovlatov and so many other things; and countless other Russians, especially the cast of bohemians who helped me with my thesis project, a translation and line-by-line commentary of Joseph Brodsky’s long poem “Predstavlenie.”

Although you might not always guess it from this blog and its prevailingly grim subject matter, learning (and reading) Russian has been immensely liberating. Becoming a Russian reader and speaker has made me a different person, a person capable of seeing the world, however darkly or brightly, through other eyes.

I was reminded of this tremendous gift and the sheer joy of plunging into a new language by the four “Russian pedagogical moments” below. I hope they inspire some of you to learn Russian. At very least, you can read through this post and learn your first twenty-seven words and phrases in the language. ||| TRR

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“V or B? Fill in the missing letters.” This is a worksheet made by the RFL teacher extraordinaire Natalia Vvedenskaya for the immigrant children she teaches at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. The words are banan (“banana”), yabloko (“apple”), vaza (“vase”), kolbasa (“sausage”), divan (“couch,” “sofa”), sobaka (“dog”), rebyonok (“child”), and morkovka (“carrot”). This was originally posted on Ms. Vvedenskaya’s Facebook page.

The words and phrases on the second page of the worksheet are velosiped (“bicycle”), avtobus (“bus”), baton (“baguette”), volshebnaya palochka (“magic wand”), gruzovik (“truck, lorry”), banka s vareniem (“jar of jam”), rubashka (“shirt”), and baklazhan (“aubergine, eggplant”).

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Some of Bridget Barbara’s favorite Russian words are arkhiologicheskikh (“archaeological”), zharko (“hot”), delala (“[a female subject] was doing/did”), kavychki (“quotation marks”), prikol’no (“cool”), kuda (“to where”), sovremennyi (“modern,” “contemporary”), ping-pong (“ping-pong”), bifshteks (“beef steak”), and dostoprimechatel’nosti (“sights,” “landmarks”).

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Vadim F. Lurie, “Russia for the Sad.” Posted on the photographer’s Facebook page on August 13, 2021, and reproduced here with his kind permission. The textbook in the photo is open to pages headed with the word grust‘, “sadness.” As Mr. Lurie informs me, “The boy is examining a special book about emotions and discussing it with his mother.”

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Natalia Vvedenskaya playing language bingo with her pupils at the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center. She writes: “We discussed transport today. Bingo is still the best game for all levels of knowledge of the language and ages. Only it’s very exciting. The screaming is fearsome.”

Death to F—-ts

“Death to faggots.” Photo courtesy of Baza via Mediazona

Performers at show in honor of Yaroslavl patriotic club’s 20th anniversary smash stage prop with the inscription “Death to faggots” using sledgehammer 
Mediazona
August 31, 2021

During a performance by the military patriotic club Paratrooper in Yaroslavl, the regional news website 76.ru has reported, the performers used a sledgehammer to smash a stage-prop brick inscribed with the phrase “Death to faggots.”

According to the website, a performance in honor of the club’s 20th anniversary was held at the Dobrynin Palace of Culture in Yaroslavl on August 29. The performers took their comrade, placed a prop shaped like a white brick, inscribed with the phrase “Death to faggots,” on him and smashed it with a sledgehammer.

Andrei Palachev, the head of Paratrooper, explained to 76.ru that the club members had been joking.

“The kids just decided to make a joke and drew this inscription at the last moment. Faggots have no business being in Russia at all. […] And why should [the performers] be punished? They just don’t like fudge packers, and I don’t like them either. The family should be traditional: a boy and a girl, and not all this faggotry,” Palachev said.

Igor Derbin, the palace of culture’s director, stressed that this part of the performance had not been vetted with him.

“We are outraged. Initially, the event was supposed to be pleasant and joyful. We weren’t expecting their stunt. It was not planned in advance or agreed upon, because they knew that we would not allow it. By doing what they did, they canceled all the good impressions made by the event,” he added.

Taras Sidorin, the head of the Yaroslavl branch of the veterans organization Defender, said that he had filed a complaint with the police about the incident. “We consider such outburst incitement to murder. […] There were small children in the audience. This behavior is simply unacceptable,” he said.

Translated by the Russian Reader

A Second Thaw

The poster for a special 35mm screening of Gennady Shpalikov’s A Long Happy Life, held in Petersburg’s Avrora Cinema on September 9, 2017, as part of a “Second Thaw” program at the annual D-Day Dovlatov Festival. The screening, ostensibly held to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Shpalikov’s birth, was to be introduced by the establishment film director Sergei Solovyov. Courtesy of the D-Day Facebook page

What’s wrong with Russia in one easy lesson.

Gennady Shpalikov was a brilliant Soviet screenwriter, poet, and lyricist, and, in his only attempt at directing, A Long Happy Life (1966), an equally brilliant filmmaker.

If you’ve ever seen the film, you probably wondered at some point how such a bleak, beautiful, and utterly hopeless masterpiece could have been made in the post-Krushchevian Soviet Union.

I don’t remember how that miracle happened, but after this and until his death by suicide in 1974 at the ripe old age of 37, Shpalikov was a man without a country and certainly a man without almost any prospects of getting decent, honest work in a country whose leadership had decided to do a little re-Stalinization after a very brief period of mostly cultural liberalization. (Hence the glorious Soviet cinematic new wave of the Krushchev period, in which Shpalikov played a key role.)

But now, even as it persecutes Kirill Serebrennikov for some of the same “faults” that Sphalikov had, the regime tries to redeem itself by resurrecting the suicided Shpalikov for an evening and rehabilitating itself in its own eyes.

I don’t doubt for a second that the utterly loyalist filmmaker Sergei Solovyov regards Sphalikov as his friend, but everything I’ve read about Shpalikov suggests he was such a charming fellow everyone liked him anyway. That is, until he was made a creative outcast by his own country’s always righteous political regime, couldn’t get work, and started hitting the bottle.

Basically, this is like an evening of films by John Cassavetes as introduced by Ron Howard.

I also don’t know what any of this has to do with Sergei Dovlatov, another talented and “troubled” fellow the great Soviet Union ejected from its sacred midst because it had no place for him, essentially, but who has also been subjected, in recent years, to one of the most extensive and absurd cooptation-cum-rehabilitation campaigns you can imagine, as if he hadn’t left the Soviet Union in 1979, or hadn’t had any good reason for leaving.

None of these frantic attempts on the part of the regime and its running dogs to save themselves in the eyes of the nonexistent intelligentsia should prevent you from watching every film Sphalikov had anything to do with (they’re all worth watching, and some are masterpieces), and reading everything Dovlatov wrote (most of it is hilarious and poignant) in the comfort of your own home.

No one needs to attend pro-Putin rallies disguised as cultural events. What else could the slogan “1967: The Second Thaw” refer to?

There was no second thaw. Only a “long happy life” that ended in 1991. ||| TRR, August 30, 2017

Gennady Shpalikov (director), A Long Happy Life (1966)

Last Address (Moscow): Natalia Totskaya

A photograph of the young Natalia Totskaya, taken at a photo studio in Irkutsk. On January 2, 1938, Totskaya was executed for “counterrevolutionary terrorist propaganda” and “espionage.” Courtesy of Oksana Matiyevskaya

Oksana Matiyevskaya
Facebook
August 28, 2021

Here’s what’s new.

I was just writing an announcement for tomorrow’s Last Address ceremony for a neighborhood group.

Suddenly, I realized that five years ago, when I started doing this, the charges of espionage and terrorist propaganda [made against many victims of the Great Terror] seemed to be the distant past, a clear marker of Stalin’s hysterical spy mania. It seemed, well, unreal, hard to believe. What must have it been like to live in such darkness, huh?

The years have gone by, but, people have asked, does it still seem unreal?

This is Natalia Totskaya, a graduate of an Institute for Noble Maidens. She was a teacher of foreign languages and translator. She corresponded with her sister, who had emigrated.

A plaque bearing her name and four dates — of her birth, arrest, execution and exoneration — will be installed and dedicated tomorrow, Sunday, 3:00 p.m, at 1/2 Solyanka Street, bldg. 1 [in Moscow].

Please come and join us!

Thanks to Marina Bobrik for the link. Translated by the Russian Reader